The Toronto Raptors have historically struggled in the first game of a playoff series. The Raptors are 1 and 10 in the first game of a series since the seven-game format was introduced.
As expected NBA fans have poked fun at the Raptors’ game 1 failures. For many years fans called it a “curse” along the same lines as the “GoDaddy curse.”
With Saturday’s matchup against the Orlando Magic set to tip-off at 5pm, let’s take a look back at the Raptors’ game 1 history. Is there a reasonable explanation behind the Raptors’ game 1 woes?
Early Start Times?
Raptors fans probably cringe when they see the start times for game 1 every year. In the brief period between 2007 to 2008 where the Raptors made the playoffs, both series had a game 1 start at 12:30pm. For whatever reason the Raptors had the misfortune of playing three more 12:30pm starts since those two series.
Players are used to playing games later in the night. The Raptors usually play their games in the regular season around 7:30pm EST. The early start times could be a factor as the players come out in the first quarter a lot more sloppy and rusty to start the game.
While Bosh and Carter were off their usual games that afternoon, Richard Jefferson for the Nets had 28 points on 52.4% shooting. T.J. Ford on the Raptors shot an efficient 8-for-13 en route to 21 points.
Some players perform better in early start times than others, so it’s possible that early start times are not the definitive reason behind the Raptors game 1 “curse.”
All-Stars Go Missing
The more recent Raptor teams in postseason matchups from 2014-2017 saw their best players have underwhelming performances in game 1’s. When the team needed them most, they vanished.
Kyle Lowry was arguably the team’s most important player in the past Raptor teams. He only averaged 7.3 points in game 1’s of the first round from 2015 to 2017. DeMar DeRozan averaged 14.3 points in game 1 of round 1 from the years of 2014 to 2016.
It’s difficult for teams to win in the postseason when their best players aren’t producing. While some other players on the team may step up and contribute, ultimately when it’s time to win, when the game is on the line, it’s up to the superstars to carry a team to victory.
The Raptors Didn’t Have “It”
“It.” A two letter word that Paul Pierce famously claimed the Raptors lacked in 2015. A two letter word that prompted Masai Ujiri to respond to Pierce, costing him $35,000 and the team $25,000.
With all the trash talk and fines, what did Pierce mean by “it”? Pierce told ESPN in 2015 that besides the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James, there weren’t any teams he saw as an intimidating matchup during that postseason. At this point we can only speculate as to what Pierce meant by the “it-factor.”
Maybe it meant a team with a superstar player like LeBron? Or possibly it meant a team that his own matches up poorly against? Could Pierce be referring to a mental aspect of the game? Is the “it-factor” the clutch factor?
Take Pierce’s words with a grain of salt. Pierce recently claimed he had a better career than Dwyane Wade, and the NBA media community for the most part laughed at him for what he said. But Pierce wasn’t wrong. The Raptors did not have an “it-factor” at the time since Vince Carter.
Looking Forward to the Magic
No one here at Raptors cage wants to jinx this. Myself included. But when you look at this year’s Magic team, they have the skillset and personnel to potentially steal game 1 from the Raptors.
The season series was split at 2 games-a-piece, and in particular the rebounding of Nikola Vucevic has given Toronto problems. Jonathan Issac and the Magic have defended Pascal Siakam extremely well in their matchups, limiting the Cameroonian to 8.8 points and 2.5 assists in the four games they played against each other.
The Bottom Line
On the bright side, the Raptors have a 5:30pm tip-off so the excuse of an early start time affecting play won’t hold any merit. The Raptors are 1-1 in 5:30pm starts, in round 1 of the first playoff game, dating back to 2017.
While Kyle Lowry remains on the roster as an important contributor, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have assembled a team that doesn’t have to rely on Lowry’s production as much.
The Raptors added superstar Kawhi Leonard in the offseason, and he has had a decorated playoff pedigree so far in his career. Leonard looks (on-paper for now at least) to be the “it-factor” the team has not had in quite some time.
If history would tell us anything about the Raptors, history would say the Raptors aren’t going win game 1. History isn’t on the Raptors side. If all hell breaks loose (eg. Lowry, Siakam, and Leonard aren’t playing well) fans can’t be surprised.
It’s almost ingrained in the character of the franchise to lose game 1 of a playoff series. History however is history. It’s the past. Now the Raptors have a chance to re-write the narrative of past game 1 disappointments.
The Raptors have all the off-court factors in their favour. They got the later start time. The Raptors got a superstar player. They (potentially) have “it.” All that’s left is to play the basketball game, and show the world what they got.